Holidays and Other Excursions

Tag: Bus Tour


Tuesday 22 to Wednesday 23 March 2016

On the Tuesday morning it is off to the airport and then across the water to New Zealand.  We are flying direct to Christchurch on South Island.

The recent history of Christchurch is dominated by the 2011 earthquake.  This decimated the centre of the city although as we drive through the suburbs these seem to be largely unimpacted – although no doubt damage was done.  For several years the centre was effectively a “no-go” area and the opportunity has been taken to rebuild all of the underground services before redeveloping using techniques which should limit damage in the event of another quake.  The worst damage and loss of life was in one office block which had supposedly been constructed to withstand such quakes – but it has later been found that many corners were cut.

Having been empty it is going to take time for the city to return to normal.  Businesses moved away and getting them back is no doubt an uphill task.  Hard work is being put into getting restaurants and catering facilities open and trading to ensure it looks attractive to employees visiting the area.

Of course instability of some damaged buildings remains so sites are shored up and many walls have been covered with a variety of artistry so that they are less stark reminders of events.  The initial shopping area was achieved by using a lot of shipping containers.  There are also a variety of other attractions – a basic tramway system and also a variety of sculptures.

The most arresting installation are 185 empty white chairs close to the point of the worst devastation.  185 died and the chairs are intended to represent the individuals, so there are high chairs for children and easy chairs for older people and so on.  We were told that there would eventually be a more permanent memorial to the losses but this was particularly poignant.

The photos from the bus tour can be found here.

Parts of Christchurch are now permanently pedestrianised and work is progressing in enhancing the local area along the river.  We then went around the town on the local tram – a limited service was running due to the road works but we see more of the decorated walls and also some cute “sheep” which act as blocks to prevent road traffic extending into the quieter areas.

Among the facts we learned is that New Zealand was the first country to give votes to women – achieved in 1893; most countries did noting until after 1918.  It is also clear that the Maori population has been treated far better than the indigenous populations in other countries – they were granted property rights in 1840 and were respected by the European settlers.  Those organising the settlers were not dependent on prisoners (eg Australia) or slaves (USA) – they were trying to build communities and sought to bring all the skills to the country.  So from the outset the people who came were perhaps willing to experiment, to try new ideas and pursue an honest life.  And whilst I have often heard descriptions of the country being England but set in the past it strikes me over the next few days that we see a very modern country.

Photographs of that tram tour can be found here.

In the evening we have what probably turns out to be the best meal of the trip in Australia and New Zealand.  We found, almost by accident a restaurant called 27 Steps.

The ground floor entrance is not overly prepossessing  – but take the stairs to the first floor!  Nice room, warm welcome and excellent meal.

I had some very nice tongue:

Followed by the venison:

And then the cheese of course:

Food photographs from

Plus earlier we had visited a small bar and I had some whisky.  A very nice place, pity it is so far from home.


Saturday 19 to Monday 21 March

Sydney was the first point of landing by the British and is the world’s most magnificent harbour.  It is dominated by two iconic pieces of engineering and construction – the Harbour Bridge and the more recent Opera House.  Our time here is a little limited in relation to the size of the city and throughout this part of our journey the rain feels almost incessant.  Rain at this time of year in this part of Australia we discover is not uncommon as it often interferes with some open air performances which are planned for Autumn – so this might have been predicted.

We arrive in the late afternoon and the coach rapidly manages the journey into the City Centre to a Sofitel which is just walking distance to Circular Quay, which is where we head a little later to wander along and to take in the two iconic landmarks previously mentioned.  Walking back along the Quay we note a number of people eating at Searock where we eat as well; some excellent starters – chilli prawns and crab on tostada; simpler main courses – Wagyu beef burger for me and some salmon for Jackie.  Then back up the hill to the hotel.

The following day is not too bright but we decide to risk the two bus tours to see as much of the City as possible – first to Bondi which on a coldish day does not seem quite as welcoming as I am sure it does on a bright sunny day.  There are a few people in the surf but like the similar Melbourne suburbs seen previously it does look a little run down.  The bay itself is not large; somehow I had always imagined miles of sand but in reality there is probably a bigger beach at Bournemouth.  The return journey passes through some more attractive places, Rose Bay, Double Bay and Wooloomooloo (I hope I have spelt that correctly) where the old “Finger Wharves” have undergone much work and now appear to house a great selection of restaurants.  Once back in the City Centre we switch back to the other tour to see the city itself.  (we had used it briefly to get to the Bondi service from the hotel).  Our progress is slow due to the time spent waiting for buses at one point or another and towards the end of our journey we get a little wet as the rain arrives, so we retire to the hotel.

Here are photos of the bus tour.

It brightens briefly but by the time we head out for the evening cruise with Captain Cook Tours it is not looking so good and our trip round the harbour hardly allows any sights to be seen as the rain buckets down.  A good supply of wine does enable a cheerful evening to proceed and our table seems to lead the noise generating activities.  The Harbour Bridge looks severely distorted through the windows and others go to lengths to take photos of the Bridge.

Monday comes and there is little improvement in the weather as we wander back down to the Opera House for our formal tour of the building.  Designed in the late fifties built in the sixties it opened in 1973.  In some respects therefore it is noticeably not modern with a lack of lifts.  It also took much longer and cost a lot more than originally anticipated.  We are shown into the newer area that has been developed partially underneath the two original main auditoria as part of more recent developments and also into the two main halls.  These are separate structures from the external sails but throughout there is a harmony of design and careful thought to make the buildings as sympathetic to productions and to be associated with the external harbour.  Our tour guide is clearly keen on the building and the productions and makes a great impression on all of us.  The shape of the sails are derived from sections of a sphere and they are not cleaned; rainwater does the job and channels the water into built in drains which take the water down into the harbour.

Photographs for the visit are here

Lunch in the food court area is luckily under cover as the rain pours down only easing a little towards the end of the afternoon when we head out to go and find the area known as “The Rocks” which is past the end of Circular Quay.  This area has been restored from being extremely run down to an area of restaurants and shops on a some steeply inclined hills.  Although better visited at the weekend when there are also small markets there is clearly a vibrancy no doubt achieved by being immediately adjacent to the point at which the major liners dock when visiting the port and, due to their size, are unable to pass below the Harbour Bridge.  The approach to construction is very similar to Devon and Cornwall with steps up to front doors from the street with the next house being built further up or down the slope as appropriate.  And there is a German Oompah band playing outside “Munich” where the staff are suitably attired for a German bier Keller.

This evening we are due to meet Graham and Lorna in the Bar Blu on 36th floor of the Shangrila Hotel – their suggestion and this provides an absolutely stunning view over the City and of course of the harbour area.  We then go on to dinner at the Customs House on the fifth floor, under cover but with a feeling of the open air.  Again a great view of the Bridge and the best food of the holiday – another  chance for a Moreton Bay Bugs and then some salmon in a light tandoori sauce.

Photographs from the viewing point are here.

We are so late back to the hotel that the front door is locked and gaining entrance takes a couple of minutes.  A short night ensues.